Walls of Indifference: Arizona and the Ecology of Militarization

Torres, Nicole I. Walls of Indifference: Arizona and the Ecology of Militarization. Diss. U of Washington, 2013.
Adviser: 

This ethnography documents and explores the social, political, and material consequences of militarization in the borderlands of Arizona. Basing my conclusions on two years of fieldwork in Phoenix, Tucson, and along the US-Mexico border, I identify militarization as a social and political phenomenon that gradually reconfigures both individuals and communities. What is most striking about the process of militarization is its instrumentalization. Although fieldwork participants use the tropes of immigration and race as central points for discussion, I observed that these discourses point to a much broader trend of social, psychological, and political transformation connected to the proliferation of vigilantism, gated communities, and detention centers. Most recently, this transformation is embodied and articulated through the experiences of border crossers. Border crossers are migrants who enter theUnited States without authorization due to multiple factors, including socioeconomic constraints, and they include women, children, and men. Many cross the border hoping to reunite with family members who work in the United States and who can no longer risk returning to Mexico or other parts of Latin America. Each dissertation chapter is an examination of the extravagant devices that assist in the reconfiguration of the social, political, and psychological landscape and allow for the emergence of militarization within the context of the immigration debate. In chapter 1, I provide a basic overview of three main threads of Arizona history from which the current social and political climate of Arizona emerged. Chapter 2 charts out how the language of war functions as an instrument of governance. Through ethnographic instances, I explore how the vocabularies of race, nationalism, and patriotism actually decrease political engagement. The third chapter examines how, when local authorities govern through crime, individuals learn how to identify criminals and ethnoracial others as enemies of the state. In Chapter 4 I analyze how the borderland areas of Arizona are contested terrains and geographies of anguish. I examine the experiences of the now infamous Arizona residents Jared Lee Loughner and Shawna Forde to demonstrate that these geographies of anguish are testaments to the continuing deleterious effects of imperialism on both persons and places. In Chapter 5, I explore the effects of what is known as statecraft and examine its social, physical, and psychological consequences. I argue that physical encampments and social exclusion allow for a psychic landscape where subjects assist in the social and physical death of others. Finally, chapter 6 is a visual ethnography: I use photographs to chronicle the harsh realms that border crossers traverse, including both the hostile physical landscape and the inflammatory social and political debates. The photographs examine narratives of race, crime, migrancy, indigeneity, and the continuing deleterious effects of colonialism. I conclude that the social suffering that my research illuminates is the social and material consequence of statecraft. Both residents and those who travel through the borderlands live along the fault lines of the nation-state and are habituated to conflict through the militarization of their communities. I end by examining militarization as a socioecological process, arguing that militarization reconfigures an individual's sense of self. This ethnography is significant not only to anthropology, but also to interdisciplinary research collaborations that focuses on environmental psychology, trauma, conflict resolution, and the effects of war and militarization on communities. Rather than examining the social and political environment as a problem of the border or immigration, I argue that such perspectives need to be decentered and critically examined. My aim is to offer a critical and holistic perspective that looks beyond these normalized tropes. I hope that this investigation will be of interest to a wide variety of academics, civilians, students, and grassroots organizations.

Status of Research or Work: 
Completed/published
Research Type: